Noah Toribio: The English defender who plays for Boca Juniors

It may have been 13 years since he left England but Noah Toribio can still remember the time he spent in the country, spending the first seven years of his life in and around the London area.

“We moved to the States when I was seven but I do still have some vivid memories,” says Toribio. “I was born in London but we moved to Kingston-upon-Thames when I was five and started school. Most of my memories centre around playing soccer, of course. Growing up in England and having an Argentinian dad, I guess its to be expected.

“Soccer at our apartment complex, the playground at school, the school yard after school and Richmond park with my dad whenever he had free time.

“That’s just what we did as a family. Sit in parks and play soccer.”

It’s clear even early on from his use of the word soccer that the defender has spent many years away from his country of birth but that does not mean he does not appreciate those early years and how they have set him on the path to be a professional footballer. Now 20 years old, Toribio is part of the academy of Argentine giants Boca Juniors and has trained with the club’s first team in the past.

Having moved to Texas at the age of seven, with his mother being American, the Kingston-born defender spent eight years in North America before moving to Argentina in 2015 where he first joined the academy system of top-flight side Banfield. He has been in the country ever since, joining Boca in 2018.

The move to Argentina wasn’t completely random. As mentioned, Toribio’s father is an Argentine but despite that it did not mean moving to South America would be a walk in the park for the 20-year-old.

“Argentina has a whole different style of play than any other league I’ve experienced or watched,” he says.  “Personally, it was a bit of a culture shock moving here. Even being half Argentinian, it wasn’t easy.”

The move certainly seems to have been worth it though. The Boca youth player regularly refers to Argentina as an ideal place to develop as a player, crediting the country for a huge positive adjustment to his style of play.

“Growing up, I played attacking midfield and over time moved into a wider position. When I originally came to Argentina in 2015, I came as a left winger but pretty quickly due to the extremely different style of soccer compared to the States and my height, they started putting me in as left center back.

Toribio (right) with his Boca teammates

“It’s now become my most preferred position and really brings out my best qualities in the Argentine league. It was a huge adjustment at first because I’d never been in a defensive role but overall it’s made me a much more rounded player and it’s become my favourite position.”

When it comes to the progress he has made in the youth leagues of the country, even remaining in the academy of a professional team in Argentina can be seen as an achievement due to its ruthless nature, let alone being part of the academy of the biggest club in country and possibly even the continent.

“The whole Argentinian Superliga is extremely skilled, fast paced and great for development. It’s known around the world for its high level youth academies and every major team in the world has an Argentine or two on their roster so that’s pretty telling about how they develop players.

“I’m blessed to have been able to break into it at the age of 16. I’ve developed so much over the past four-and-a-half years being here and it’s not something I take for granted. 

“Every year, even if you have a contract, it’s a mission to advance to the next division and not get cut. Within the high level Superliga, Boca is always at the top and expects its players to keep them there so there is always pressure to perform and be at your best or there’s another player ready to take your spot.”

Toribio was brought to Boca by Claudio Vivas, a man who is most well known for his work as an assistant to Marcelo Bielsa in the past. He spent nearly two years working at Boca before leaving earlier this year. Vivas also brought George Acosta and Cameron Johnson to the club from America, the pair are both American youth internationals.

The trio have had to work hard to remain at the academy but for Toribio, he would have it no other way.

“I like the pressure,” he says. “It keeps me at my best and that’s the whole reason I’ve sacrificed being away from my family for so long. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here so I’m grateful for the challenge. Even in the physical and endurance testing there’s a constant competition amongst players to win and be at the top. That’s always when I perform the best, under pressure.”

His performance under pressure whilst playing for the club’s youth teams has seen him rewarded with the chance to train with the first team of Boca. Although he is yet to have been given his big break in the senior side, training with the club’s superstars will no doubt help to develop his game even further.

“I have trained with the first team in the past month alongside players such as [Carlos] Tevez, [Cristian] Pavón and [Mauro] Zárate. I had to stop and blink once or twice realising I was defending in drills against the same players that basically the whole country adores. It was a huge honor and privilege.

“I don’t know about a breakthrough soon but that is the goal; to debut in Boca Juniors. You never know when the opportunity will come so you always have to be ready.”

Just like his aforementioned youth teammates Acosta and Johnson, the London-born defender is also an American youth international, having previously appeared for the under-18s. It was an experience he enjoyed but his options are still wide open. Having spent time growing up in England to an Argentine father who also has Italian citizenship, Toribio has a whole host of nations he could represent.

“It’s always amazing to get called up to play for your country [recalling his time with the US youth teams]. It was enjoyable but in a sense I feel didn’t really get the chance to show much of who I am as a player.

“Maybe it’s the same everywhere but it seems they already have their minds set on who they’re watching. Even after playing abroad for a couple years at the time I don’t think I played more than a few minutes of actual game time so that was disappointing, but the experience overall was amazing.”

In training with America U18s

With that said, a British passport is the only one missing from the countries he could possibly represent in the future. That would for now limit his chances of potentially playing in or for England in the future but that is about to change as the talented defender’s options are set to increase further.

“I am in the process of getting my British passport,” he says. “We never needed it previously since we lived there with Italian nationality. I currently have an American, Italian and Argentinian passport and with the addition of British, I believe it will open even more options for my soccer career.

“Ultimately, I’d love to one day return to England to play for the Premier League. But I wouldn’t turn down a top flight position anywhere in Europe – if I’m perfectly honest.”

When pressed on which country he would choose to play for, he remains diplomatic but does hint to one country which he is leaning towards.

“I would love to be called up to any of the countries I have nationalities for as I have a certain level of loyalty to each of them. Growing up in England and America there are obvious loyalties there but Argentina gave me my start and has valued and developed me probably the most as a player so I have a certain amount of loyalty here too.”

For now though, the former Banfield defender is focusing on getting his big break with Boca. Having turned 20 last month, he will be looking for his first taste of senior football sooner rather than later and although that may be tricky at such a big club, it is something he relishes the challenge of.

“While it hasn’t been the easiest journey in Argentina so far, I have adjusted over time and appreciate all it’s brought out of me on my journey.

“As they say, nothing worth having comes easy.”

The English FA better ensure that they have Toribio on their radar…

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